June 20, 2013
ITIF Report: Reimagining the National Laboratories
Department of Energy's (DOE) National Laboratories System was created
in the 1940s to develop the atomic bomb. From its national security
origins, the Labs have become one of the centerpieces of the United
States federal research enterprise, representing nearly $20 billion in
annual public research dollars. However, as the pace of innovation has
accelerated and the complexity of national challenges has increased, the
national laboratory system has not kept stride. Significant reforms are
required to better catalyze innovation and promote the 21st century
To accomplish this goal, three think tanks, the
Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), the Heritage
Foundation, and the Center for American Progress (CAP), propose a set of
nonpartisan policy proposals for reforming the national laboratories.
Turning the Page: Re-imagining the National Labs in the 21st Century
Innovation Economy makes a series of recommendations that if enacted
will increase research flexibility, allow for greater cooperation
between the labs and the private sector, and promote a more cohesive and
efficient researchprogram within the Department of Energy.
national labs are a tremendous source of cutting-edge research and
scientific talent, but their operations are still based on a decades-old
management model that no longer meets the needs of our modern
innovation ecosystem," notes Matthew Stepp, Senior Analyst with ITIF and
lead author of the report. "This study presents a series of twelve
proposals for Congress and the Administration that can ensure the labs
better meet their mission and produce useful technologies that spur
economic growth and create jobs."
While efforts to reform the lab
system have become highly politicized, ITIF, Heritage, and CAP have
been able to agree on common sense reforms for basic, good governance of
the labs. As stated in the report, "These recommendations are as
relevant to a large, highly-funded research agenda as they are to a much
more limited one."
"A system that allows the market to pull
technologies out of the federal research establishment rather than them
being pushed into the market by Washington is the best way to get more
successes like GPS and fewer failures like synfuels," adds Jack Spencer,
a Senior Fellow at the Heritage Foundation.
reforms won't cost the taxpayer anything, but will lead to better
research, more innovation, and greater economic growth," says Sean Pool,
a former policy analyst and managing editor of CAP's Science Progress
program. "But pragmatic does not mean less bold.
that we were able to find consensus across ideological lines around a
set of reforms that are both ambitious and practical."
reforms presented fall into three main categories: (1) removing DOE
micromanagement of lab decisions and replacing it with more robust
contractor accountability; (2) reforming the DOE program offices to
better coordinate lab stewardship, budgeting, and research; and (3)
providing better incentives and flexibility for the labs, industry, and
universities to move promising technologies to market.
national labs have been a tremendous driver of innovation and business
development in the past," Stepp adds. "But the reforms we propose today
are critical to the labs producing more economy-transforming research.
If three ideologically diverse organizations can agree on these issues,
surely Washington can as well."
Read the Report At
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